Small Energy Providers Trounce Big Six In Britain

For the fourth year running customers have rated small British energy providers more highly than the Big Six
Published: Fri 23 Jan 2015

Ecotricity, Good Energy, Ebico, Ovo Energy … names that most readers outside Great Britain will not have heard, but these are the energy companies among others that are, and continue to be, the most highly rated by British customers

For the fourth year in a row in its annual energy company satisfaction survey, the authoritative consumer body Which? has found that the small independent energy suppliers continue to top the rankings both overall and in the categories rated – way ahead of the so-called Big Six suppliers, which nevertheless continue to account for about 90% of the market.

And impressively so: the top four companies named above all rated 80% or above overall, while the Big Six were on 50% or less.

The five categories rated were customer service, value for money, accuracy and clarity of bills, complaints handling, and help to save energy. More than 9,400 energy customers were surveyed during September and October 2014.

Customer concerns

Notably in the survey, the only category that didn’t gain a top (5 star) rating by any company was ‘value for money’. This suggests that consumers think energy prices are too high. Indeed, the Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, which surveyed over 2,100 UK adults in December 2014, found that energy prices are the top financial worry, with over two-thirds (68%) of consumers concerned. Further, more than a quarter indicated they were planning to cut back on their energy expenditure in the coming months.

Trust is also an issue, with energy companies having the highest level of distrust of the services tracked. Just 20% of consumers indicated trust in energy suppliers to act in their best interests (with only car dealers having a lower trust level).

Fix the Big Six

Apart from Spark Energy, which rated similarly, the Big Six all appear in the lower half of the satisfaction survey. ScottishPower and npower both fall well below the GB industry average of 48% in the survey, with both rated poorly in all categories.

However, not all of the Big Six are rated poorly in all categories. For example, SSE, which scored well for ‘customer service’ and ‘complaints handling’, was brought down by its ratings for ‘value for money’ and ‘help to save energy’, as was British Gas, while E.ON scored evenly (3 stars) across all categories.

To redress this, Which? has launched a Fix the Big Six campaign, calling for suppliers to up their game to immediately improve the service they provide to help restore damaged customer trust.

“The large energy firms, which dominate the market, need to up their game as millions of customers deserve better,” said Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd. “We need the Competition and Markets Authority to propose radical remedies to fix this broken market. Instead of waiting for the outcome of the competition inquiry, companies should make immediate improvements to help restore trust among their long-suffering customers.”

Which? has proposed six ‘fixes’:

● Increasing competition

● More trading transparency by separating the supply and generation businesses of the Big Six

● Simple pricing and swifter switching

● Control of unnecessary costs added to consumers’ bills

● An end to practices that unfairly increase costs and damage customer trust

● An overhaul of the Green Deal to make it a fairer deal for consumers.

Switching in Britain

Despite the concerns about energy companies, the survey recorded an increase in the overall level of satisfaction, up from 41% in 2013 to 48%.

Nevertheless, switching levels in Britain continue low. From a peak around 2% per month in 2008 they have been in decline subsequently, averaging around 0.75% since mid-2011 up to late 2013 (when there was a spike), according to Ofgem’s most recent market assessment.

Which? also runs a switching site Which? Switch, and claims users who switched in the last quarter of 2014 are currently saving an average £245 (US$370) a year on their gas and electricity bills.